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Week 7 - Drum Recording/Studio Roles

This week, our group had their first recording session for the Soundalike project in the Large Audient Studio. In this session, we recorded drums and I was assigned the role of the patchbay assistant. I didn’t nominate the role myself and was assigned to me by the group leaders. As this was my first time in the Large Audient (our group missed the opportunity to record in there in our last trimester’s AUD 115 assessment), I felt a bit nervous at first. I took the responsibility anyways as I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn and familiarise with the studio.

Traditionally, the role of a patchbay assistant includes (but is not limited to) hooking up outboard effects like dynamic processors(amps, compressors, limiters, eq) and effect units (reverb, delay, chorus, etc.) to the audio signal chain; either pre-tape, post-tape or both using 1/4" TRS connectors.

Before the session, I was familiar with the signal flow and operation of the Audient console. The large audient console is quite similar to the one we had in the small audient studios. The patchbay operation was similar as well but it was a bit more complicated than the smaller audient as there were a lot more outboard effects, dynamic processors and available channels on the console.

Before the recording session started, we had a studio practice session with Darren Hulcombe. We set up a basic drum kit to record and practice before the actual drum session. We as a group had done our homework and came prepared with our microphone list and the techniques we’d be using for the day. We set up the mics according to the list, that is,

Kick In – Sennheiser e901

Kick Out – AKG D112

Snare Top & Bottom – Shure Sm57

Overheads – TLM 103

Room Mic – AT 4050

Before setting up the mics, Darren asked us to give a critical listen to the original song’s drums in the studio. After listening closely, he recommended that we leave out the room mic and the overheads as the drums in the song sounded dry and gave the impression that they were recorded in a small room, a common practice in the 70s soul music productions. He played a copy of the song parallel to the original with the phase inverted on it to confirm this decision.

We recorded the overheads anyways just to be on the safe side of having the option to play with the stereo field of our drums in post-production. Also, we tried to recreate the sound of a small drum recording room by putting acoustic frames around the kit. As suggested by Darren, we removed the outer skin of the Kick drum and stacked pillows in it to achieve a less resonating and beefy kick sound similar to the original song.

Then came my opportunity to shine as I was asked to patch the left & right Overheads to the Bae 1073 Preamps, which I failed miserably. Looking at the patch sheet, I got confused and felt lost. Luckily, no harm was done as we were still practicing. Then Darren explained to me the signal flow of the patchbay and how I’d connect the Mic Insert Send to the 1073’s inputs and then patch the signal back from 1073’s outputs to the Mic In Returns. Thankfully, I knew that I should maintain the left and right signal flow and chose different colored cables for the channels, which he appreciated. After this, Darren recommended that we patch the Kick In channel to the UA 6176’s tube preamp and compressor. He explained that the Preamp and the compressor could be treated like separate units and we could use either the two of them together or any one. We decided to use both so I patched the Mic In Send to the 6176 Preamp In and the 6176 Comp Out to the Mic In Return with considerable ease. We set the compressor to an aggressive Ratio and Attack/Release setting to add more punch to the Kick.

The demo session worked great and Darren’s drums sounded brilliant and very close to the original. This meant that we were on the right track with getting the sound that we wanted.

Later on, drummer Bobby came in with his own kit for the real session. We set up the mics as before but when we listened and compared the Kick to the original, it sounded way more clicky and thin. So Darren recommended that we bring in another microphone, the Electro Voice RE20 for the Kick Out believing that the new Kick In and Out combination might work. So we had a total of three different mics on the Kick but we were still not being able to get the desired Kick sound. After struggling for a while, I suggested that we check the 6176 compressor settings as it might still be set according to the last drum kit’s kick and there it was. We forgot to customize the compressor settings for the new Kick drum. Bobby received the song one week before the session so he came prepared with the right tuning of his kit. This is why his Kick drum sounded way more punchy than needed because the compressor was adding that color which was lacking in the previous drum kick.

Finally, we got the right sound and did a couple of takes. Bobby was great and on point as expected. Then Darren asked us to experiment with the drum sound dynamics by adding the Distressor on the Snare Top and Bottom and FATso on the overheads, which I patched easily.

We did a couple of takes with the effects committed as well.

Overall, we were all satisfied with the day’s work and the results we achieved. Thanks to Darren for bearing with us and guiding us through the session. I learned a lot and feel way more confident about working in the Large Audient in the future. I’m looking forward to record the guitars, bass and vocals in the coming weeks.

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